THE BLOG

Michael Brown, Ferguson, and Why a Police Force Should Reflect the Community It Serves

08/27/2014 02:37 pm ET | Updated Oct 27, 2014

In death, the New York Times couldn't resist talking about Michael Brown's struggles as a teenager. Imagine that -- a teenager struggling. Noteworthy.

I think about my teenage years: Broke. Confused. Horny. Doing stupid shit. I remember (and tell this story often) when I was a young teenager and my cousin David and I stole some equipment from a new hospital site that was being built. I ended up getting hurt pretty badly from that night, but when I showed my friends my new battle wounds, it was nothing. They'd been doing a lot worse.

In high school, I transferred to a primarily white school and those kids were wild. I never knew what drugs were until I got around white folks -- these little kids (in hindsight, I realize that we were little kids) were doing coke, weed (that was nothing!), drinking, and LOTS of sex. Wild. Stupid shit.

I remember going to a party my senior year, and I've never seen so much stupid shit. These dudes, mostly white, were cracking themselves over the heads with frying pans (no lie!) and burning each other with cigarette lighters and then -- when someone got burned TOO bad -- they started fighting. Apparently they only wanted to do stupid shit to a degree -- I don't know what the degree was. They all looked equally burned to me. But I digress.

Really, really stupid shit.

Eventually the cops were called and the party got broken up. Most of the kids were obviously inebriated, but they drove home anyway. I didn't drink -- so it was entertaining to watch these wannabe-90210 kids stumbling out, still trying to fight with each other, and get into their raised Nissan trucks and drive away.

You know what never happened?

Nothing. They got home. No arrests. Hell, the cops didn't even give these kids tickets. Sometimes the kids would act overzealous ("you gotta fight... for your right... to paaaarrrrrttaaaayyy!!!"), but they were rightfully allowed to negotiate their way out of their stupidity. And it wasn't an aberration -- I saw this happen many, many times. And why would they? They were kids. They were drunk. Many times they were angry and frustrated when those parties got broken up -- they were trying to do their thang! Drunk dancing off beat to whichever hip-hop was out at the time, they wanted the night to last forever. But the cops had a responsibility, and they did their jobs right -- came in, broke up the party, told the kids to get their little drunk asses home.

Community policing. They knew these kids. They came from their communities -- those cops knew, despite the kids cursing, throwing up and protestations, that they were good kids and it wasn't the end of the world.

These kids deserved to have their time to be stupid.

See, these badass white kids were just like badass kids off all colors: kids. They do stupid kid shit. All the time. It happens -- it's kinda their job. And as long as it wasn't some extremely stupid shit that hurt other people, we could give them a pass. I was fortunate to grow up largely in communities (Indian reservations) where the police officers lived, worked, and had social ties to the community that they policed. That meant that the police officers generally had a vested interest in making sure the kids were safe, secure and developed. They were ultimately accountable to the community in which they lived. And that's good -- because those officers know that the community kids will inevitably do stupid shit. My son will. My nephews will (or have!). And the police officers know that's okay, because they know it's part of growing up.

These white kids also had folks looking out for them. That was big. They should've -- there was no need for an adversarial relationship with a group of folks who's job it was to regulate without knowing either 1) the community and/or the 2) social mores of the community.

Which brings us to Ferguson. Which brings us to Mike Brown. Which brings us to a militarized police force that enforces laws on a community that it doesn't know. The police officers don't reflect the diversity of Ferguson. They don't look like they're from Ferguson (three black officers in a 75 percent black town). The officers -- as evidenced by the atrocious and stupid militaristic shows of forces in recent weeks -- don't reflect the social mores of the community. The Ferguson Police Department has also shown that they have no interest in getting to know the social mores of the community.

Which brings us to black kids -- the singular group of kids who aren't allowed to do stupid shit, lest they be shot and/or criminalized, even in death. Like the New York Times did. When is teenage stupid shit NOT JUST teenage stupid shit?

When the kids are black. THAT'S the mistake.

Police shooting, enforcing and arresting strangers in a strange land. Young kids doing stupid shit that kids of all races, upbringings (I've seen Amish in the City, dammit) always do.

A recipe for disaster.

Gyasi Ross is a father, an author and an attorney. He grew up on both the Blackfeet and Suquamish Indian Reservations and continues to work and live within his community. He is the author of two books, How To Say I Love You In Indian and Don't Know Much About Indians (but i wrote a book about us anyways), both available at www.cutbankcreekpress.com. He also writes his own column for Indian Country Today Media Network called "The Thing About Skins."